Saturday 24 October 2009

Ideal Home for Writer

Or a Reflexologist – or maybe a writer who is also a Reflexologist or is married to one or . . . maybe you’re just someone looking for peace and quiet and a beautiful house to go with it.

May I direct you here

This is the house belonging to Lynne Hackles in the lovely Welsh countryside overlooking the Cych Valley. It comes complete with the option of taking over the reflexology business – along with 200 clients.

And if that hasn’t convinced you I have a three letter word for you AGA! And what about this – craftsman built bookshelves. Are you drooling yet?

Go on – have a look!

Here is a picture of the front garden to whet your appetite.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Free Darcy

Darcy is a fire service rescue dog who was taken to Indonesia to help in the search for people after the recent earthquake.

She has been inoculated and has a pet passport, but because Indonesia is not part of the scheme, the law decrees that she must be kept in quarantine kennels.

The fire service is campaigning for her release and there is a petition on the No. 10 site asking for search and rescue dogs to be exempt from the quarantine laws.

If anyone would like to sign the petition, the link is here

Monday 19 October 2009

Old Books

For me Herbert Van Thal’s name was synonymous with horror stories, but as well as an anthologist he was a publisher, agent and biographer. I just had to see his name on the front cover of a book and I’d get a tingle in my spine.

I’ve always had a love affair with ghost and horror stories – for as long as I can remember and as a teenager I used to get through the numbered Pan books of horror stories like nobody’s business.

Anyone remember those? Edited by Herbert Van Thal. Goodness knows how many – I think there were 24 and I must have read most if not all of them. They had delightfully gruesome covers and I’m pretty sure that when I put the books down at night, I put them face down in case I should wake up and scare myself even more stupid than I already was.

I hung on to them for years – my kids can remember the covers vividly – I can’t think why.

I first read the story of the Elephant Man in those books. And stories by Rosemary Timperley, Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, H P Lovecraft, L P Hartley, C S Forester, Bram Stoker, W W Jacobs – I could go on and on and probably on some more.

I’m pretty sure I read The Gift of the Magi by O’Henry in one of them. It is one of my all time favourites.

I would read any book of horror stories I could get my paws on, not just the Van Thal ones. I wish I hadn’t parted with them when I had one of my massive book clearances.

I may have to visit and treat myself.

Most of those offered for sale are fair or have slight scuffing or show signs of wear and tear. My Pan books were very creased and battered through much handling. My copy of To Kill a Mockingbird is like that – the cover falls off when I pick it up.

But isn’t that the sign of a much loved book? One that has been read and read and obviously enjoyed? The best kind.

Saturday 17 October 2009

Here’s a sneak preview of the cover of Spooked, the new Bridge House Anthology due out next month.

I’m so excited about having a story in there. I’ve had a lifelong love affair with ghost stories but I’ll write more about that in a future post.

It is a dream come true for me.

Sunday 11 October 2009

Stuck For A Subject

Couldn’t think what to blog about this week.

The new bed and the agonies I went through before it arrived thinking it would be too high for the dogs? Nah, who wants to hear about my sleepless nights worrying about dogs with broken legs? My own fault for not understanding the dimensions of the bed. I thought it was going to be 90 cm high. Enough said.

The two boxes of floppy discs discovered under the old bed containing over a thousand short stories and several novels? Nah, who cares and how is it relevant?

The parents/grandparents at the school gate . . . probably best not go there in case I am sued/beaten up.

The school teacher that died recently who has left a gaping hole? He was a man who loved teaching and when he taught my daughter godknowshowmany years after I used to go to his youth club, he still remembered me. My youngest son went along to his Saturday sports club. I never knew him forget a face or a name to go with it. He was one in a million, a truly lovely human being.

The fact that this time five years ago my first grandchild was six months in the womb and now there is a fifth on the way as well as two step grandsons? It makes my head spin.

Or maybe – writing related – about how I picked up a copy of Yours magazine and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it and how one woman’s amazing story in there has inspired me to think again about an old old dream I had.

But none of these things are particularly interesting and so I decided not to blog about them.

Except the floppy discs under the bed – well maybe. In the days when I was writing two or more novels a year as well as the short stories I must have been suffering some kind of cranial diarrhoea. It seems that practically every idea that went through my head ended up being written down.

My trouble back then – no editing skills. The novels are rough and far from ready. These days my trouble is I can’t get the editor out of my head and while I’ve got rid of the cranial diarrhoea I’ve managed to become creatively constipated.

So the ideas still come thick and fast, but I spend so long working on each one, writing and rewriting and then rewriting some more, a lot of the ideas are lost.

It has been a somewhat hectic week – the girls are getting along well together. The two year old is enjoying mothering the 8 month old and mealtimes are . . . interesting and a lot of fun for the dogs.

And today I’m off to visit my other two year old girl who lives away but speaks to me on the phone and says “Love you Meema,” and makes me cry. Makes me want to build a big comfy nest and gather them all in under my wings which is kind of weird because I don’t even like children!

Sunday 4 October 2009

Writing Competitions - Do You Dare?

I’ve thought long and hard about posting this. I’m not keen on ruffling feathers, but I’ve put this by several people who feel as I do so here goes.

Generally speaking writers are a supportive bunch.

But occasionally writers can be a writer’s worst enemy.

How so?

Well I’ve been doing a bit of lurking again and there’s a lot of knocking of people goes on through the medium of the internet. No one is immune.

Successful, popular novelists are tongue (or keyboard) lashed for not being literary. Literary writers are sneered at for not being popular. I have no problem with that. We are all entitled to our points of view.

When I am looking at books on Amazon for example I value the opinions of other readers, good and bad.

Unless I can say something good, I tend to keep my opinions to myself, but I’m going to stick my neck out today about something that really bothers me.

Of course successful, published writers want their work to be enjoyed and I reckon even people like J K Rowling feel it when people slag their writing off – but they can look at what they’ve done and know that it doesn’t matter that some people don’t like their books, but hey that’s life. They don’t have to prove anything – they are successful.

Now I know very well that a forum is a place for open discussion and message boards are for messages, but all too often people are driven or excluded from such places because their opinions don’t fit in with the current ruling clique. But that’s not what I want to talk about.

What concerns me is the criticism of competition winners.

I’ve only been in for a couple of writing competitions – one was to write a novel, the other was the Bridport (yes I know, I had delusions of talent!) and I know how scary it is to send in an entry.

For a good many people it requires a lot of courage to submit work. I know a number of very good writers who simply will not send anything off. You know who you are and if you’re reading this, I really wish you’d do it.

But let’s get back to our competition entrant.

Here you have someone who loves to write. They enter competitions with a shred of hope and the expectation of disappointment, or maybe they are supremely confident who knows, but for the sake of argument let’s assume this is someone who lacks confidence and is wary about entering their work.

They read books and magazines about writing and visit several of the many forums and discussion boards online where others can be so encouraging and supportive – which generally speaking they are.

They work hard on a story, polish it to a gleaming shine, sweat blood over it and hesitate before posting it off only to hear it land at the bottom of the post box just as they think of something that would have made that opening line so much better.

They go home, gnaw their fingernails to bloody stumps, hit the bottle and . . . oh sorry I’m exaggerating here.

But here’s something that could happen. They win.

The judges have seen something in the work that appeals.

Our writer is over the moon, they start to believe in themselves and then . . . up pops a message somewhere saying the judges were wrong. How could they choose something that had spelling errors or a clumsy paragraph or didn’t have a very satisfactory ending?

Others join in, maybe just one or two but they end up swarming round the winning story like flies round a corpse. To me this is a form of cyber bullying. They pick holes and find fault and our winning writer trips over these comments and a budding talent is squashed.

Sometimes they name the person they think has won unfairly. The owner of one winning name in particular must have savagely burning ears.

And now I’m not exaggerating. I know we have to develop thick skins as writers, but truthfully speaking mine is still pretty thin and if I was new to all this and saw my first published piece being torn to shreds I may well give up or at least put writing aside for a few years.

Some people will shrug off this kind of criticism as sour grapes, but some won’t and that is what worries me. I know that if you offer your work for public consumption then you have to be prepared for feedback, but if it must be done then shouldn’t it be constructive particularly in the case of people in the infancy of their craft?

Rather than being mean spirited and critical of competition winners, why can’t they look for the positives that made the story a winner in the first place?

The kind of criticism I’ve been reading doesn’t really reflect on the competition winner and it may bring the critics a small glimmer of satisfaction that their forum friends have jumped on their bandwagon, but looking at it as an observer the only ones who look bad are the ones doing the complaining.

And the only one being hurt is the competition winner.

So if you are a competition winner or a runner up or you’ve had your first story published in an anthology or a magazine and someone out here in the ether has made some spiteful comment, then please ignore it.

Your work has touched the people that matter.

That’s what counts.

So do you dare enter writing competitions? Yes you do – go for it and if you win then good for you, hold your head up high, be proud of yourself and keep writing.

Friday 2 October 2009

Are You a Writer?

At my eye test last year my optician asked my occupation. Usually I tell people, “I work from home,” and leave it at that unless they want more then I say, “You know, computer work,” and I swiftly change the subject. But I took a deep breath and told her the truth.

“That’s great,” she said. “What do you write?”

We had quite a conversation about it and I could have hugged her.

I thought how different this was to when an optician asked me my occupation 25 years ago.

“I’m a writer,” I said. I had several published stories, a serial and a couple of meetings with editors under my belt by then and I felt confident enough to admit what I did and thought it might be relevant to my eye test.

He laughed. “No my dear, you may think you’re a writer, but you’re not.”

I didn’t argue with him. Presumably I wasn’t old enough to be a writer – or perhaps not posh enough or clever enough. He waffled on about why I wasn’t a writer and I felt too humiliated to tell him why I thought I was.

I retreated back into my shell and made my next check up appointment with a different optician.

So what is a writer?

To my mind if you write, you are a writer.

My mum was a knitter. Actually she was a serial knitter. If you saw a pattern in a magazine and asked if she could make it up for you, her whole face would light up and you wouldn’t see her for dust as she rushed off to the wool shop.

When I was a child, the local wool shop would ask her to knit things for them to sell and she once supplied just about everyone on my dad’s boat with woolly hats (and quite a few with sweaters). I made the bobbles for the hats. She was never satisfied with anything less than perfection whether she was knitting a delicate shawl for a baby or a chunky Arran sweater for a seaman.

My Gran-in-law was a knitter. You know the pictures of the made-up garments on knitting patterns? She used to knit those for Patons.

I used to knit. Nothing fancy you understand, a ribbed jumper for my husband, a dress for my daughter, easy stuff. The last thing I knitted was a coat for Tilly. I’m not a knitter now – well unless I am really in the mood and I do find it very therapeutic – but I used to be a knitter.

I know a lady who calls herself a knitter and the stuff she produces would make a spider faint. Dropped stitches, mistakes, holes, wavy hems when they should be straight – but is she any less of a knitter just because she can’t do it very well and no one would ever pay her for her work or ask her to make something special? She works hard at it, she produces something – she is a knitter.

As I see it, if you are writing and producing something you are a writer. I don’t see that on Monday you are not a writer because you haven’t been published, but on Tuesday when you land the three book deal with a publisher you are suddenly transformed into a writer.

Writers write, knitters knit, cooks cook. Some do it well, some don’t. The fact that they do it at all, do it to the best of their ability and work hard at it, well I think that earns them the right to call themselves a writer don’t you?

Hey I managed to write a whole post without mentioning spiders . . . doh! No I didn't.